I’m A Jew And A Member Of JVP. Israel Just Banned Me.

(Originally published in the Jewish Daily Forward)

In 2011, I visited the land of Israel on a trip for American Jews, organized by an orthodox yeshiva- kind of like Birthright, only more religious. I remember how holy it felt to dunk in the mikvah (ritual bath) used by the Arizal, Isaac Luria, legendary 16th-century Kabbalist, in the holy city of Tzvat. I remember how blessed I was, to pray in Hebron at the graves of the matriarchs and patriarchs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I remember when I burst into tears, chanting the Mourner’s Kaddish for my grandfather, on his yahrzeit (the anniversary of his passing), at the Western Wall.

As I gradually became aware of the great injustices, past and present, committed in that holy land, my prayers came to include prayers for justice. ‘May the Palestinians ethnically cleansed from Tzvat,’ I prayed, ‘now exiled in refugee camps and around the world, be able one day to return home.’ ‘May the deep, deep structures of inequality and dominance be lifted from Hebron, this holy place.’ ‘May the brutal military occupation end, here at the Kotel and across Israel/Palestine.’

I trusted there was something deeply human, and deeply Jewish, about those prayers. When I returned to America, I decided, in the words of Heschel, to “pray with my feet”. I put those prayers into action, as a member and, later, a staff person at Jewish Voice for Peace. And now, for doing so, I am banned from visiting the land of Israel by its current government.

My first reaction to hearing news of the ban was shock, then sadness. Will I ever be able again to kiss the stones of the Kotel, to pray at the graves of rabbis and holy men? And I know this sadness pales in comparison to my Palestinian friends in Chicago, who dream of being able to visit or return to their homeland, whose families still hold the keys to the homes from which they were expelled.

While it did not, as of yet, turn me into an Orthodox Jew, my first trip to the holy land made a lasting impression on my spiritual life, as such pilgrimages have for Jews over centuries. I know that one day, I will be able to make such a pilgrimage again. Only next time, there will also be Palestinians on that plane. As I step off the plane and kiss the ground of the holy land, they too, will kiss the ground- because they are finally, truly, home. Next time, when I pray at the Kotel or Hebron, it will be a just place, where no homes are raided, no children are caged, no races or creeds are profiled, no people must live at the mercy of a checkpoint or under the barrel of a gun.

It is this vision of freedom and dignity for all, that is so threatening and terrifying to present-day Israel. And like all great visions, it cannot be banned, legislated, or intimidated out of existence. Israel will not succeed, with this ban, in intimidating American Jews away from joining JVP and supporting the BDS movement for justice and equality. Nor will it succeed in stifling the Palestinian call for justice, or in bullying people of conscience the world over from supporting that call.

Next time I visit Israel/Palestine, its laws will be as just as its land is holy. And until then, I think of the classic meditation of Rebbe Nachman, that I learned on my yeshiva trip. “The whole world is a very narrow bridge,” he said, “and the main thing, is not to be afraid at all.”

Soon, opposing the occupation will be fashionable for American Jews- but is that a good thing?

Here’s a nightmare fantasy of mine. Before long, mainstream Democrat-voting American Jews won’t be afraid to talk about the occupation. Quite the contrary- they’ll insist at social gatherings that they’ve been against it all along; they’ll congratulate themselves for cursing Bibi and Trump; ‘our Israel’, they’ll tell each other, ‘would never do the terrible things Bibi’s Israel is doing today’. How great they will feel about themselves, when their institutions can finally display with pride- We stand against the occupation!

Only it will be 50 years too late- nay, 25 years too late. Their collective voices could have been very useful during the Oslo Accords, but today, Bibi’s Israel doesn’t need liberal American Jews- it finds its solid base of support in the right-wing Orthodox, and the evangelical Christian Right. The occupation is permanent. Reform movement leader Rick Jacobs will wear an ‘I Stand Against the Occupation’ pin when he gets arrested at the Kotel with Women of the Wall- but will it matter?

American Jews will be able to congratulate themselves en masse for opposing occupation precisely when that gesture is politically irrelevant. It will soothe their consciences, and absolve them of historical responsibility for a situation they couldn’t face, and can no longer influence. And lord knows, they still won’t talk about the Nakba and Palestinian right of return.

Cringy NYT op-eds like this pave the way towards that reality. In 2018, let’s challenge ourselves and our communities to broaden the discourse, play to win, face reality and not settle for less.

For American Jews, The Era of Trump Marks the End of the Zionist Dream

Originally published at +972Mag

For most American Jews, the regime of Donald Trump has ushered in the most profound and destabilizing existential crisis since the Holocaust. We watch in horror as President Trump launches a full-frontal assault on the institutions, and the very principles, of the liberal democracy upon which we have built our lives for generations. We stand aghast as his administration tramples the civil liberties of our Muslim, immigrant and refugee neighbors, and we brace ourselves as a potent anti-Semitism simmers at the edges of the alt-right movement that helped propel him to power.

American Jewish establishment and legacy institutions, which already possessed little relevance for many of us, seem ill-equipped to guide us through this new reality. And the state of Israel, far from standing with us against this fascist menace, appears to be egging it on. As we all weather the short-term shocks Trump inflicts upon the political and civic institutions of American life, the full reverberations of this longer-term shock have yet to be felt by American Jewry. In the future, the era of Trump will be remembered as the end of the Zionist dream.

The internal crisis the mainstream Jewish American community faces is far more profound than we are willing to admit. For almost a century, the tradition of democratic liberalism in America has provided the bulk of white Jews in the US with safety, prosperity, and a stable modern identity. Across the country, we have built a vibrant network of communal institutions, and poured our energies into strengthening the fabric of American civic, cultural and political life. After the Holocaust, the democratic values of religious and political freedom, and civic equality, were central to our orientation in a changing world. Today, though a growing portion of our community has moved to the right on political and social issues, a sizeable and disproportionate majority of American Jews retains liberal and progressive values.

Now, seemingly overnight, Trump’s attacks on the press, judicial institutions, human rights groups, and other organs of democracy threaten to erode the foundations of the world that has been comfortable for many of us. And our well-established, amply-resourced communal and legacy institutions, like the Jewish Federations, have raised barely a tepid voice of protest against this onslaught. They were unable to anticipate, comprehend, or combat the startling surge of far-right populism and neo-fascism in this country, and the unprecedented resurgence of anti-semitism brewing in its wake. Though they appear calm, our leaders, like most others in the country’s establishment political and civic landscape, tremble behind their doors.

And where is Israel to protect the Jews of America? Trump’s words and actions on International Holocaust Remembrance Day were a double affront to American Jewry. Not only did his administration’s statement fail to name the Jewish identity of the Holocaust’s primary victims, or the ideology of anti-Semitism that fueled their annihilation- on the very same day, he signed into law a Muslim ban chillingly reminiscent of America’s rejection of Jewish refugees that, in the 1930s, helped seal the fate of so many European Jews. Not only did Prime Minister Netanyahu fail to speak out against any of this- the next day, he praised Trump’s decision to build a border wall, with a bombastic Tweet meant to emulate the swagger of Trump himself.

After the Holocaust, Israel came to be seen by many Jews the world over as an insurance policy, sworn to defend us forevermore against the reappearance of fascism in world history. But seventy years later, the world is divided anew into ultra-nationalist statesmen and stateless refugees, into powerful tyrants and defiant rebels. While a few American Jews back Trump, most of us strive to stand against this tyrant of our time. But what the US Jewish community still has to confront is the reality that the government of Israel, along with a majority of its Jewish citizens, actively supports the Trump administration, which seems poised to legitimize Israel’s fever dreams of settlement expansion and annexation, and to crush any remaining hope of Palestinian statehood.

A few notable exceptions notwithstanding, most American Jewish Zionists, since the days of liberal leaders like Louis Brandeis and Stephen Wise, would place their Zionism squarely in the same tradition of American liberalism that has structured the rest of their lives. For years, these progressive Zionists have watched nervously as anti-democratic, illiberal forces have consumed the center of Israeli politics. Regardless of whether this idea of a progressive Zionism actually reflects the reality unfolding in Israel/Palestine- I would argue that it never has- the point is that, in order to remain morally consistent, American Jews must see their Israel as not only a Jewish state, but a democratic state as well. In the mainstream American Jewish imaginary, Zionism is akin to the civil rights movement of the Jewish people. It must offer the world, in the shape of Jewish liberation, a testament to the promise of universal human emancipation as well.

That’s why, as democratic norms have steadily eroded in Israel, American Jews have inwardly wrestled with an impossible contradiction. Over the years, more of us have chosen to speak out against Israel’s brutal occupation in the West Bank, its relentless bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza, its discriminatory two-tiered legal structure within its borders, and its denial of refugee rights. But the bulk of us have remained silent, because we were taught to trust that, somehow, Israel’s troubling actions were necessary to protect the safety of Jews around the world.

But when Israel backs a regime, here in America, that threatens our liberty as humans and our safety as Jews, the claim that Zionism protects Jews no longer holds. An Israel that cheers on Goliath, as it raises its hand against the Davids of our world, is an Israel that has become startlingly unrecognizable to us. While mainstream American Jewry could choose to ignore the spread of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia in the far-off ‘Jewish homeland’, when these same forces wash now upon our own shores, the familial resemblance, and active collaboration, between Trump and Netanyahu becomes impossible to ignore. We enter the new fascist era with communal institutions that are unable to speak truth to power, and with a Jewish state that stands among the forces arrayed against us, one whose attacks on political dissent and denial of basic rights to Palestinians serve as a disturbing roadmap to where the US may be headed. Though the bulk of liberal American Jewry has, up till now, remained silent, in the era of Trump, there grows in their gut a dizzying disorientation.

By the time the Trump nightmare finally crashes into flames- as all such nightmares eventually do- and these liberal American Jews get up, rub their eyes and look around, their gaze will turn in despondence towards Jerusalem. Where once stood their progressive Israel- their ‘light unto the nations’, symbol of the holy values of democracy and human freedom, spiritual rock of resistance against all tyranny and oppression- they will now face a state that, from their vantage point, looks no different than the monster they just helped chase out of their American homeland. The realization that, two generations after the Holocaust, the state of Israel allied itself with the forces of global fascism will be too much for liberal Zionism to bear.

As more and more American Jews face this reality, their sense of betrayal will be immense. As a community, our process of collective mourning and teshuvah (repentance) will be difficult. Our identity as American Jews, supported so long by the foundation-stone of liberal Zionism, will be in crisis. It will take some of our elders awhile to admit it- some never will- but in our hearts, we will know that a state that cheered on the tyrant that raised his hand against us can no longer be our Jewish state, indeed, can no longer be Jewish at all. With the Zionist dream dead, what Jewish vision will guide us into the future? How will we rebuild?

Over the next few years, the twin barbarisms of the Trump and Netanyahu regimes will continue to dovetail, and the rift between Israel and the bulk of American Jewry will continue to widen. While a few American Jews will cast their lot with Trump, Netanyahu and the rising global forces of fascism, hundreds of thousands more will overcome the inertia of our mainstream institutions, and take to the streets to defend our lives and communities against tyranny. Through this experience of struggle, American Jews will reconnect to the social movements from which, for too long, too many of us have been estranged. We will re-learn the muscles of tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (healing the world) which, for too long, too many of us had failed to put to use.

The old dream of a liberal Zionism will not survive to carry us through the 21st century. But out of the fire of our reborn commitment to our principles, a new diaspora Jewish identity can be formed, founded on prophetic values of social justice, solidarity and love. We will again bear witness to ‘mi-melech malche ha-melachim’, to a ‘king who rules over kings’, a force of divine righteousness greater than earthly power. Let us cleave to this vision, and this work, without fear, with a clear head and a strong moral compass. It is our only hope.

 

 

In The Age of Trump, Progressive Jews Can Learn From the 20th Century’s Radical Yiddish Tradition

(first published at In These Times)

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The official, textbook history of any nation or group of people, writes radical historian Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States, can be sure to conceal “the fierce conflicts of interests, sometimes exploding, often repressed, between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated. … In such a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”

Acording to Zinn, it is the task of the radical historian not merely to recount the events of the past with the disinterested, depoliticized gaze of an “objective” academic. We need a history, rather, that lets the marginalized and oppressed voices of the past speak, that listens to these voices so as to distill new lessons, perspectives and imperatives urgently needed to face the political reality of the present.

Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism, written by Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg, attempts to write such a subversive and relevant history. First published as Le Yiddishland révolutionnaire in 1983 and re-released this November in a first-ever English translation by Verso with new editorial notes, references and an introduction by the translator David Fernbach, the book deals with the generation of Jewish radicals in Eastern Europe who, in the first half of the 20th century, helped raise the banner of world revolution against the terrifying forces of capitalism and fascism. A haunting, inspiring and often tragic book, Revolutionary Yiddishland uses first-hand interviews, deep archival research and sharp analysis to bring to life a complex landscape of factory workers, partisans, poets, party leaders, refugees, ghetto fighters and movement intellectuals.

Released on the day of Donald Trump’s election, the book’s timing of could not be more appropriate. Today, we see clouds of fascism disturbingly analogous to those of a century ago darkening our own political landscape, driven by a toxic and too-familiar collusion of xenophobia and scapegoating, authoritarianism and far-right nationalism, liberal capitulation and corporate mega-profit.

The Radical Jews of Yiddishland

In the late 1800s, millions of Jews living across Eastern Europe left their rural villages, called shtetls, and sought work in the new industrial factories crowding cities like Minsk and Vilna. Before long, this Jewish proletariat birthed a militant trade union movement with messianic intensity. The largest of these mass organizations, the Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund, or the Jewish Workers Bund, sought to unite all Jewish workers into a socialist party that demanded, in a revitalized Yiddish tongue, equal civil rights and freedom from discrimination for Jews and all workers, an end to class oppression, and a new Russia founded upon democratic socialism and cultural and religious freedom.

As the book recounts, these radical Jews created a new, socialist Jewish culture that brought secular Yiddish theatre, literature, discussion groups, educational systems and other vibrant and democratic institutions to a Jewish world in upheaval. This is the beating heart of Yiddishland—a word which, for the authors, conjures at once the region of Eastern Europe, the Yiddish culture and radical spirit of the Jews who lived there, and the historical moment itself, the dynamic and terrifying 20th-century arc upon which their lives unfolded.

Revolutionary Yiddishland traces how, as the Russian Revolution overthrew the tsar and brought the Bolsheviks to power in 1917, many Yiddishland radicals helped drive the wave of revolutionary enthusiasm that swept Western and Eastern Europe. They helped build left parties, socialist governments and, in many cases, Jewish wings of these and other movements across the continent.

Meanwhile, the nationalist ideology of Zionism, popular among middle-class Jews in Western Europe, also began to make inroads in Yiddishland. The book unearths the passionate arguments between, on the one hand, those Jewish Communists and Bundists who insisted on staying and fighting as part of broad-based grassroots movements in Europe, and, on the other hand, those left-wing Zionists who struggled to fuse their aim of world revolution with their attraction toward a Jewish national home in Palestine.

Later, the book shows how, as fascism spread across Europe, the revolutionaries of Yiddishland fought falangists in 1930s Spain, formed self-defense militias in Nazi-occupied countries like France, organized underground networks of resistance in ghettos like Warsaw, and launched covert campaigns of sabotage and attack as partisans hiding deep behind enemy lines. Finally, we witness the utter liquidation of Yiddishland in the ovens, battlefields and mass graves of Nazi terror. We see its few survivors struggle, and often fail, to maintain their revolutionary spirit in a post-war world that was too quick to suppress and stigmatize the trauma of their destruction, and too eager to denounce their radicalism in the name of realism, or Zionism, or liberalism.

Though Yiddishland traces dense political trajectories across a broad historical arc, it is grounded in a fabric of human experience that makes these narratives anything but abstract. The authors, who in the 1980s conducted extensive interviews with survivors, offer vivid, intimate glimpses into the beating heart of a vanished world.

In the grueling sweat of the factory, we see young workers replace Torah and Talmud with the Communist Manifesto, and convince their religious parents to join them in the fight for a new Messiah. In the crowded working-class neighborhoods of Białystok, we see struggling Jewish families rejoice in the discovery of new literature and theatre that speaks to their own troubles and aspirations, in their own proud Yiddish tongue. On the frenzied streets of revolutionary Russia, we watch patrols of Jewish workers battle tsarist soldiers and chase spies away from meeting houses. On a Yom Kippur night in early 1940s Moscow, we listen as worried Jewish refugees from Poland huddle with their Russian Jewish comrades outside a synagogue, trading terrifying rumors of the ovens at Auschwitz, narrating heroic tales of resistance from the Warsaw Ghetto.

These stories, and so many others, jostle together in the crowded pages of Yiddishland, the faces of the protagonists gazing from the past asking us, if not to avenge their death, at least to remember their life. And Yiddishland does just that, in a stark, refreshing prose that does not glorify these fighters in any “cult of great Heroes,” or idealize them as larger-than-life martyrs.

Rather, the book portrays what it calls a “resistance of the shadows” made of ordinary people who, in extraordinary times, dedicate themselves “without hesitation” to a gritty, uncertain struggle to survive with dignity. The texture of their resistance is not romantic but brutal, often marked by “hunger and fear, missed encounters, tiresome tasks, boredom and greyness, pain and anguish.” And while Yiddishland tells a specifically Jewish story, it opens a first-hand window into the larger movements for political emancipation, working-class empowerment and resistance to fascism that made the 20th century so momentous, and terrifying, for the whole human race.

Why Study Yiddishland Today?

As the authors of Yiddishland detail, a vast, seemingly unbridgeable gulf separates the world of these radicals from our world today. Put simply, German fascism erased their existence from the face of the planet, and uprooted the language, customs, history, cuisine, institutions, religion and economic life of the world that they called home.

How does the Left as a whole view its own past today, ninety-nine years after the Russian Revolution helped usher in a near-century of powerful socialist, leftist, anti-imperialist and other movements that shook the planet? We view these movements mostly as anachronisms of a bygone era—flawed and failed, if well-intentioned and inspiring.

But we have yet to find new forms of resistance capable of challenging and dismantling a rapacious and rampant 21st century global capitalism. As the authors of Yiddishland make clear in their introduction, the larger Left today, like radical Jews, has yet to process and mourn the twists and turns of its recent history. We cannot help but look upon the passionate, almost messianic optimism of early-20th century radicals with a strange sense of dislocation and longing.

In the Jewish imagination today, the memory of the revolutionary Jews of Yiddishland is suppressed, or at most, consumed as a pale imitation. In its absence, the ideology and historiography of Zionism places the creation of Israel at the pinnacle of Jewish history, and portrays the millennia that Jews lived in diaspora, amongst the peoples of the world, as a cycle of permanent suffering, plagued by an eternal anti-Semitism.

In the hegemonic narrative shared and co-created, to some extent, by most Jewish communities in both America and Israel, the memory of the revolutionary Jew of Yiddishland is an image held dimly, and with warmth and pride. But, so the narrative continues, this history’s bitter lesson is that Yiddishland values of solidarity and revolution did not protect even these Jews from Hitler, and that only the Jewish state of Israel can provide the haven of safety, security and identity needed for Jews to exist in the world today.

Even most Jews on the radical left today scarcely remember the names of the radical Jews of Yiddishland. With mere traces of remembrance, we have yet to give them a proper burial, to learn what they yearn to teach us, to know exactly what we, today, have inherited or have yet to inherit from them. Meanwhile, the state of Israel’s 68-year old assault on Palestinian land and life continues at a dizzying rate, and American Jewish support for the Israeli regime continues to lure us onto the wrong side of history, like a collective nightmare from which our community cannot yet awaken.

A New Yiddishland?

It is highly fitting that Revolutionary Yiddishland appears today in English, just as a new radical Jewish movement is emerging here in America, the largest global Jewish population center since Yiddishland itself (slightly edging out Israel by some estimates). Today, more American Jews than ever are joining and building movements against Israel’s occupation and apartheid. Meanwhile, across a thousand spheres of Jewish communal life, progressive movements are forming which seek to hold our many institutions and leaders accountable to the racial and economic justice struggles around and within which we as Jews live. In my work as Campus Coordinator with Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization inspired by Jewish tradition to stand for justice in Palestine and against all forms of racism, I see this new Jewish identity being built by student activists on college campuses every day.

One hundred years later, with the state of Israel and its right-wing allies in the U.S. finding clear common ground with Donald Trump and neofascist forces worldwide, little has changed since the radicals of Yiddishland organized against capitalists and fascist collaborators in their own community, and denounced Zionism as a bourgeoisie, nationalist movement that allied itself with imperial interests and ruling elites, and cared little for the real struggles of poor and oppressed Jews and non-Jews around the world.

But if this burgeoning movement may be symbolically called here a “new Yiddishland,” it must be stated that this new movement is hardly Yiddish. In a porous, multicultural America, while many Jewish radicals trace their roots to the shtetl, many others inherit traditions from the many non-European Jewish communities of the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and elsewhere, and from non-Jewish ancestors as well. There are other important differences between past and present: While the radical Jewish identity of Yiddishland was forged in direct struggle against class exploitation and violent anti-Semitism, many, though certainly not all, American Jews today benefit from some degree of race and/or class privilege. While yesterday’s Jewish radicals were staunch atheists, today many of us embrace prayer, ritual and spiritual identity infused with, and inseparable from, our radical politics and lives.

It is also appropriate that Revolutionary Yiddishland appears today as a resource for the Left as a whole. As neoliberal capitalism maintains its destructive grip and delivers misery to most inhabitants on the planet, the Left faces a terrifying fascist threat unseen since the era of Yiddishland, with the rapid embrace of far-right politics engulfing Europe and culminating, last week, with the startling seizure by Donald Trump of the most powerful political position in the world. As we combat mounting attacks on Muslim and Arab communities, black folks, immigrants, Jews, women, LGBTQ folks and more, we have much to learn from the boundless optimism, the fearless advances and the terrifying retreats of those who struggled before.

We need to draw hope from this previous generation of radicals who believed, against all odds, that a new sun was dawning in the sky of history. Revolutionary Yiddishland lets this generation speak, and helps us to listen. Through this radical act of remembrance—and through continuing, in our own time, the struggles they were not able to see to victory—we inherit their fight, we redeem their loss, we ensure their death was not in vain. And we relearn, in a new way, that vital lesson expressed in a saying of the ancient rabbis: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

‘A Jew, Not A Zionist’: Interview with Rabbi Meir Hirsch, leader of Neturei Karta Palestine

reprinted from my MondoWeiss article here

(image from http://www.palestinemonitor.org/?p=1652)

Last week I interviewed Rabbi Meir Hirsch, leader of Neturei Karta Palestine, at his home in the Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Sharim in Jerusalem. Mea Sharim is a tight, crowded maze of a neighborhood with windy, dirty, dimly lit streets. Walking down a cobblestone pathway at night, with Orthodox men, women and children hurrying by on all sides, with cats scurrying in and out of dumpsters, with a yeshiva to the left and a kosher slaughterhouse to the right, one can sometimes get a flashback to a past life in an 18th-century Russian shtetl.

In the few blocks around Rabbi Hirsch’s home, the Neturei Karta stronghold in the center of Mea Sharim, one starts to see Palestinian flags scrawled on the walls, with slogans like ‘No Zionists Allowed’, ‘Zionism is Dying’ and ‘Arabs are Good’ graffiti’d in Yiddish, then crossed out, then graffiti’d again. Rabbi Hirsch’s doorbell reads ‘A Jew Not a Zionist’.

An excellent interview detailing Rabbi Hirsch and Neturei Karta’s political views can be found here-http://www.palestinemonitor.org/?p=1652. Also be sure to visit Neturei Karta’s website, www.nkusa.org!

When did your family come here?

Meir Hirsch: I am the fifth generation in this land. My family came 150 years ago from Russia. Then, Aliyah as a term, like Zionism, did not exist. People outside of Israel aspired to get to Israel in order to better worship God. When Mea Sharim was made 145 years ago, it was a wilderness at first! There were animals roaming around, people had to lock their doors!

When the Orthodox community saw waves of European secular Zionists coming, how did they feel?

The Balfour Declaration of 1918 made the people here, especially the orthodox families, very upset. There was an objection from the ultra Orthodox community, which was the majority, specifically in Jerusalem but in other parts as well. Jacob Israel de Haan was a secular Jew who became religious, and came here from Poland. He came to Palestine and at first he went to the Mizrahi movement, but was not content with their version of religion and connected with [WHO] the Chief Rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox. Because of his diplomatic connections he almost got the Balfour Declaration canceled- he had connections with Arabic leaders and British leaders. The Zionist leaders, because they saw that he was about to succeed, decided to assassinate him. When he was coming back from Maariv (evening) prayer, they shot and killed him. That led to the foundation of the Neturei Karta movement to continue to resist the Zionist movement.

De Haan was trying to make a bi-national state?

He was trying to undo Zionist aspirations towards statehood. The Zionists were progressing with their project and the Arabs were very much worried that the Zionists were trying to take their land. He met with King Abdallah of Jordan who promised him that Jews would have no problems living in Jordan or wherever he may rule, as long as they didn’t have any aspirations for political dominance.

Could you call de Haan a cultural, rather than a political Zionist?

He was anti-Zionist! He was completely detached from Zionism. All along Neturei Karta has been completely detached from Zionism in any form.

Where does the name come from?

Neturei Karta means ‘Guardians of the City’, it is an Aramaic term from the Talmud. It basically means to guard the city from Zionism entering the culture.

I lied to you, I actually know where the name comes from! [Taken from www.nkusa.org- Neturei-Karta is the Aramaic term for “Guardians of the City. The name Neturei-Karta originates from an incident in which R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) sent R. Hiyya and R. Ashi on a pastoral tour of inspection. In one town they asked to see the “guardians of the city” and the city guard was paraded before them. They said that these were not the guardians of the city but its destroyers, which prompted the citizens to ask who, then, could be considered the guardians. The rabbis answered, “The scribes and the scholars,” referring them to Tehillim (Psalms) Chap. 127. (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Hagiga. 76c).] So the Zionists in this metaphor are the armed guards of the city, and Neturei Karta represents the scribes and scholars who keep the truth alive?

Well in the passage, the armed guards were the Romans who had conquered Jerusalem, so they actually were the ‘destroyers’.

A (Hirsch’s wife, who wished not to be named): This passage is referring to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Then, the scribes and the scholars literally were the guardians of the city in that, through the merit of their Torah learning, they watched over the city. But the name ‘Neturei Karta’ does not mean they are guarding over the city physically, but ideologically- they are guarding the city of Jerusalem from the ideas of Zionism.

MH: There were also ‘destroyers’ of the city who were not Roman. In the time of the 2nd temple’s destruction, there were a group of Jews called Beriyonim, the ‘Bullies’, the family of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. They resisted the Romans, they decided not to surrender to the Romans at all. They were called Haruvei Karta, the Destroyers of the City. While everyone else accepted the Romans, they were adamant about not surrendering. And that is why the Romans destroyed the Temple, because of this resistance.

There’s a growing movement of reform and secular Jewish opposition to Zionism, in Israel and around the world. What is the relationship between this movement and Neturei Karta’s Orthodox opposition to Zionism?

The difference is that secular Jews are opposed to Zionism for humanitarian ideals which are basically Gentile, while Neturei Karta’s objection to Zionism, though it is also because of the humanitarian ideas, is drawn from religious commands. This is why our objection is much stronger, because it is based on religion.

The secular and reform anti-Zionist movement shares with Orthodox opposition a valorization of diasporic Judaism, but for different reasons- secular Jews feel happy and productive in their various countries, whereas for the Orthodoxy diaspora is our God-given lot until the coming of Messiah….

There is a similarity, but there is a fundamental difference because again, the Orthodox argument is based on a divine command to stay in the diaspora, while the secular Jewish ideas are based on humanitarian values.

What’s the difference between humanitarian moral ideas and divinely commanded moral ideas?

In Syria people are resisting the totalitarian regime. A humanitarian person would object to what’s going on, and would care about what’s going on there. However, in Israel the state is using religious symbols to justify oppression. For example its name, Israel, is the name given to Jacob in the Torah. Whereas anyone would care about humanitarian catastrophes going on in Syria, this is the basis of Neturei Karta’s objection to the religious aspect of Israel’s crimes.

Would you compare the State of Israel to the Jewish people’s sin of worshipping the Golden Calf?

It is much worse than worshipping idols, because while you are worshipping the Golden Calf, you are a Jew who worships wrongly, who worships other Gods. But Zionism comes in order to fundamentally remove the roots of Judaism, it aims to destroy the Jewish people.

A: Zionism claims the Jews need a nationalistic state, they need a land and a language like all other countries. Jews are not based on a land and a language, they are based on following God’s commandments, whether they live in Russia or England or anywhere.

I want to ask about the Three Oaths. (Talmudic passage cited by religious Jews as forbidding a Jewish state in Palestine)

One of them is ‘do not rebel against the nations of the world’- when the Jewish people are in diaspora, they should not rebel against the powers-that-be. The second one is ‘do not go up the wall’. ‘Go up’ is ‘aliyah’. There is no problem with living in the land of Israel, but Jews should not make a pilgrimage, we should not go there en masse. The third one is do not hurry the end- there should be redemption at the end of days, but there is nothing we can do to rush it.

I am curious- one of the Three Oaths is that Jews should not rebel against the nations of the world. Many revolutionary Communists, socialists, anarchists, etc. of the 19th and 20th centuries were Jewish. Were they violating the Oath by rebelling against states?

That is true, but the ones who did that were not Jews. They were fully secular, and therefore not part of the Jewish people anymore. So it was not against the divine command anymore, because they did not do it as Jews.

It is often said that the Messiah will come only and exactly when the world falls completely to pieces. Is the existence of Israel and its effects upon the world a sign that, because things are getting so bad, the Messiah will come soon?

We are not prophets, so we do not know! According to the Torah, the Zionist State of Israel should not exist, so it will be unmade.

The Book of Joshua details the migration of the Jewish people out of the desert into the land of Israel, and their slaughter and expulsion of the land’s inhabitants. What do you think of those who justify the modern-day creation of the state of Israel by citing this biblical precedent?

Because Zionism is coming to destroy the Jewish people, they have no right to do this. Attempting to come and use a Biblical ideal to justify their actions is blasphemous, it is like mixing light and dark.

Some religious Zionists say that Palestinians are descended from Amalek, the so-called eternal enemy of the Jewish people. What do you say to this? [Deuteronomy 25.17-19- “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.“]

This is brainwashing propaganda by the Israeli Zionist media machine. It has nothing to do with Torah. Zionists are actually Amalek! The Chofetz Chaim said that he who goes against Judaism is from the seed of Amalek! And so therefore Zionists are from the seed of Amalek.

Something else I’ve heard is that the Arab world hates the state of Israel because of a deep-seated Muslim hatred of Jews, turning the Israel-Palestine conflict into a ‘holy war’ between Islam and Judaism.

This is a very big distortion of history. If you go throughout 3000 years of history, the big persecutions of Jews were always in Christian, not in Muslim countries. The classic example is the deportation from Spain, where Jews, deported from Christian Spain, found refuge in Muslim countries. But you don’t have to go that far- in the Holocaust time, Jews found safe havens in many Muslim countries.

How is Neturei Karta received by the rest of the Orthodox community?

Almost all Orthodox Jews reject Zionism, and this is why almost none of them enlist in the army. Although many receive funds from the government and involve themselves in the politics of the Zionist state, they reject Zionism’s ideals. The impression is that Orthodoxy supports Zionism but this is not true. They cooperate, they go hand in hand with it but they do not agree with it ideologically. They have gotten used to it. But the difference between them and Neturei Karta is that we desire to have contact with Muslim people and Palestinian leaders.

How old were you when your father visited Yasser Arafat in Ramallah? What was it like?

I was 15 or 16. Even when Arafat was living in Tunisia my father went to him and explained that Judaism and Zionism are two opposite ideas, and that Neturei Karta aims to support the right of Palestinians to receive their national home in Palestine. I met Arafat in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip. It was very important for me, and a few days later, when Arafat spoke at the UN, he said he knew the difference between Judaism and Zionism. This was very important for me.

Were you or your father condemned by the Jewish community for this?

Of course there were objections, by settlers for example, to these meetings, but of course we don’t really care.

So you are carrying on your father’s message!

Yes.

Why is this important for you?

Zionist actions are creating a lot of hatred against the Jews, and it is important for us to make it very clear to Palestinian leaders that true Jews are anti-Zionist, to try to prevent as much as possible this misunderstanding.

There are some Orthodox Jews who simply ignore the State of Israel, refuse to pay taxes, etc. but Neturei Karta actively vocalizes and demonstrates opposition. What is the importance of this?

It is very important to be active against Zionist actions, because they are harming both Jews and the rest of the world. So it is important to maintain vocal opposition, to dispute the Zionist agenda and make it understood that the Zionists are not really the Jewish voice.

Do you go to the Kotel (Western Wall)?

Never.

Why not?

Because it has been occupied by the Zionist state, and I do not recognize this occupation.

It must be difficult for you, because it is one of the holiest places in Jerusalem!

It is hard, because it is only five minutes away from here by foot!

What do you think of international Neturei Karta members who refuse to even set foot in Israel for the same reason?

It is equally important, I believe, to be able to declare opposition from within here, to speak out against Zionist actions.

Do you think that the State of Israel will disappear and become another stain in Jewish history, like Sabbatai Tzevi or any other idol worship in the past?

Exactly.

‘An Interview with a Former Zionist’- My Beautiful Voice On South African Radio

I gave this interview sitting in bed at 9 in the morning to a South African Islamic radio station. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘former Zionist’ really, though I suppose I did write that in this blog’s ‘About’ section…

http://www.ciibroadcasting.com/2011/11/23/an-interview-with-a-former-zionist-ben-lorber/